Pickleball is a fast-growing paddleball sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. The game is played with a perforated plastic ball and composite or wooden paddles on a badminton-sized court.
One of the unique features of pickleball is the “non-volley zone,” commonly known as “the kitchen.” This is the area within 7 feet of the net on each side. Volleying – hitting the ball out of the air before it bounces – is prohibited within this zone.
So what exactly are the rules for volleying in pickleball? Let’s break it down.
Can You Volley Anywhere on the Court?
Volleying is permitted anywhere on the pickleball court, except within the non-volley zone (the kitchen). The kitchen extends 7 feet back from the net on both sides of the court.
What Defines the Non-Volley Zone?
The non-volley zone is the court area within 7 feet on both sides of the net. It includes all lines bounding this area.
Volleying is prohibited within this kitchen area. So you cannot legally hit a volley when any part of your body is touching the non-volley zone or anything else touching the non-volley zone. This includes your paddle, clothing or shoe laces.
When is Volleying Permitted?
Volleying is permitted anywhere else on the court outside of the kitchen. After the serve and return of serve, either team or player may hit a legal volley.
So in summary:
- Volleying allowed anywhere except the non-volley zone
- Non-volley zone extends 7 feet back from net on both sides
- Cannot volley when touching non-volley zone or anything contacting it
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How Should Volleys be Executed?
Pickleball rules define specific ways volleys must be performed:
Underhand Contact Only
Volleys must be made with an underhand motion. The paddle head must pass below the wrist when making contact with the ball.
You cannot make overhand volleys like in tennis. This underhand requirement applies anywhere on the court.
Below Waist Contact
In addition, the paddle contact point with the ball must be below the waist level of the player who hit the previous shot.
For example, if the opponent hit a groundstroke, your volley contact point must be below their waist level. If they hit an overhead slam, the volley contact point must be below your waist.
Open Paddle Face
To give volleys extra loft and depth, you can open the paddle face slightly on contact. This is legal. But you cannot “lift” or push the ball like a tennis volley. The paddle motion must clearly be downward into the ball.
No Carry Motion
Volleys require a quick punching or tapping motion. You cannot use a long carry or push motion to volley the ball. This would be a fault.
So in summary, legal volleys require:
- Underhand paddle motion
- Contact point below opponent’s waist
- Open paddle face allowed
- No carrying or pushing motion
Volley Position Restrictions
Not only is volleying prohibited in the non-volley zone, but players cannot gain an advantage by volleying near the kitchen. Here are the key position restrictions:
No Touching Non-Volley Zone
When volleying, a player cannot touch the non-volley zone or anything touching the non-volley zone. This includes clothes, paddle, shoe laces – anything.
If any contact occurs, the volley is a fault.
No Hitting Ball From Non-Volley Zone
You cannot stand in the kitchen and hit a volley even if your paddle contacts the ball outside the non-volley zone. Your feet cannot be touching the kitchen when hitting a volley.
No Entering Non-Volley Zone After Hit
The momentum of volleying cannot carry you into the non-volley zone. After hitting a volley, you must be able to stop outside the kitchen.
If momentum carries you into the non-volley zone, or causes you to touch the kitchen lines or anything touching the lines, it is a fault.
So in summary, when volleying:
- No part of body can touch non-volley zone or anything contacting it
- Feet cannot be in non-volley zone when ball is hit
- Momentum cannot carry body into non-volley zone after hit
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Strategic Use of the Volley
Now that we’ve covered the rules, let’s discuss smart volleying strategy and tips:
Volley to Move Opponent Back
Volleying is an aggressive move that pushes opponents back deeper behind the non-volley zone. If you have good volley skills, move forward and volley to force them back.
Volley Weak Returns
Look for weak returns like pop-ups, floated shots or balls dropping short. Punch volleys on these to take control of the point.
Avoid Volley Exchanges Near Kitchen
Lengthy volley exchanges near the kitchen often end in faults and confusion over non-volley zone foot faults. Avoid extended rallies here.
Use Drop Volleys
Drop volleys with touch into the non-volley zone are effective for catching opponents off guard. Vary speed and placement.
Hit Volleys Deep
Aim volleys deep to the opponent’s baseline to keep them on the run. Mix in short angle volleys to move them side-to-side.
Volleying is inherently risky with the non-volley zone restrictions. Use controlled volleys and manage risk near the kitchen lines.
With practice, volley skills will improve control of the net area and enable more put-away shots. Mastering the rules and strategy of volleying can take your pickleball game to the next level!
Frequently Asked Volley Questions
Now that you understand the basics, let’s go over some common volley questions and examples:
Can the Serve be Volleyed?
No, volleying the serve return is not permitted.
The ball must bounce after the serve before either team can play a volley.
Can You Volley a Lob?
Yes, lobs can be volleyed anywhere except in the non-volley zone.
In fact, punch volleying a weak lob is often an effective offensive play.
What if a Volley Bounces in the Kitchen?
If a volley bounces any part of the non-volley zone, it is a fault.
Volleys in the air over the non-volley zone are permitted, but cannot bounce in the kitchen.
Can You Volley a Ball Bouncing Above the Non-Volley Zone?
No, this would be a fault.
A ball bouncing over the non-volley zone is still considered to have bounced within the zone.
You must let it bounce a second time before volleying.
What if the Ball Touches You While Volleying Near the Kitchen?
If the ball touches you or anything else touching the non-volley zone during a volley, it is a fault.
This includes your paddle, clothing, shoelaces etc. No touching!
How is a Fault Called on Kitchen Volley Foot Faults?
If the referee determines your foot touched the non-volley zone or kitchen line during a volley, they will clearly call “Kitchen, Fault” and signal by pointing their finger toward the non-volley zone.
Can You Call a Foot Fault on Your Opponent?
No, players cannot make foot fault calls. Only the referee can call foot faults or other volley kitchen violations.
What is the Penalty for Illegal Volleys?
Illegal volleys result in the current point being declared dead and awarded to the opponent.
However, blatant and repeated volley infractions can also result in misconduct warnings or point penalties at the referee’s discretion.
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Mastering Volley Rules and Strategy
Success in pickleball depends on mastering both the tactical use of volleys and the intricate rules governing them.
Here are some final tips for excelling at volleying in pickleball:
- Thoroughly learn the kitchen boundaries and volley restrictions. Never assume you’re outside the non-volley zone if near the lines.
- Start each point with a disciplined court position outside the non-volley zone. Don’t get caught volleying out of position.
- Use clear communication with partners on who will take volleys. Avoid collisions or confusion.
- Develop controlled, punching volley technique. Avoid carrying or pushing motions.
- Volley aggressively on weak shots but don’t overdo it. Let groundstrokes do the work when needed.
- Near the kitchen, keep volleys low and tight to the net to reduce risk.
- Stay mentally disciplined. Volley faults often occur from reflex reactions rather than intent.
With patience and practice, mastery of the volley rules and tactics will make you a formidable pickleball player! The non-volley zone adds unique complexity, but also exciting dynamics that reward players with excellent volley skills.